Raytheon pushes swarm boat weapon

Raytheon is the latest defense company to get in line to trumpet a missile or radar system’s capabilities in defeating the swarm boats the U.S. Navy has listed as major threats to their ships, especially in an attack from Iran.

Officials from Raytheon say they succesfully tested its Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) against naval swarm boats in June.

Raytheon tested the JLENS’ ability to target swarm boats in the Great Salt Lake. It tested the radar’s ability to track multiple fast and high speed vessels to potentially give a ship commander situational awareness of all threats he might face.

A JLENS system is made up of two aerostats that float up to 10,000 feet off the ground providing radar and communication capabilities to see over-the-horizon threats and communicate with a range of weapons systems.The Army has worked with Raytheon to develop JLENS to track and defeat aircraft and cruise missiles. Swarm boats had not previously been promoted as targets within the program.

JLENS has faced a rocky development program as prices for the system spiraled. The program has already faced a Nunn-McCurdy review because of increasing costs.¬†Mark Rose, Raytheon’s JLENS program director, said the program is back on track and costs have been brought under control.

Inside the Army is also reporting a JLENS aerostat collided with a separate airship in 2011 in North Carolina. Both the JLENS aerostat and the Skyship 600 airship were destroyed in the accident, according to the report.

Development continues as Raytheon officials said the JLENS is expected to complete an operational test with a major command this year, Rose said. He did not know when or what command, but said it’s an important step toward fielding the JLENS for the Army.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • yoyo

    Here is an idea (without regard for cost): Take two of these, replace the radar on one with a battery of a Phoenix-type missile (190+ km range), and string them across the second island chain in the Pacific. BAM–our very own mobile A2AD system.

  • Will

    At only 10,000 foot altitude, an aerostat would be vulnerable to command guided, shoulder launched SAMs like the British Starstreak. Boats would have to be destroyed or deterred before they got within range.

    • Mike

      Think. These “swarm boats” would not have any clue one of these is deployed above a ship at 10K ft. Of course, what other country tells it’s enemy every system they possess and how to defeat it?

    • tmb2

      We fly these in afghanistan at half that altitude and you have to strain your eyes to see them against a blue sky unless you’re sitting right under it.

    • STemplar

      Ummmm at 10,000 feet the radar would be able to scan 123 nms to the horizon. I think the boats are probably gonna be fish food.

  • Rip

    What’s the average wave height/sea state on the Great Salt Lake? A real challenging test, was it?

  • Matt Holzmann

    that is the largest nutsack I have ever seen….

  • Matt Holzmann


  • W. B. Cheney, III

    Thats a big ass ballon to carry arround! Hook it up to a destroyer and you could fly it!
    If you want to fly a radar to protect against a high speed boat attack, why not use a drone?

    • Mike

      Loiter time and 360 degree visibility

    • Aerostat Guy

      Mike is right, also it is cheaper to maintain an aerostat than a drone.

  • Noha307

    I think the military MIGHT have an unhealthy obsession with acronyms. They call it the JLENS – it should be the JLACMDENS or “jay-lack-em-denz”. We’ve already had the M-ATV which is rightfully the MRAP-ATV. The first sign of a problem is denial. Jus’sayin…

    • P.C.

      Imagine Acronyms are a horse, the military likes to beat a horse dead more times than anyone would really care to count.

  • Uncle Bill

    While I suppose a MANPAD could take this out at 10000 feet I doubt it could do it from over the horizon. And yes a Global Hawk could do something similar to this for a few hours. The point is that this thing is tethered in a location that gives you a persistent situational awareness for a large area while being well away from any likely action.

    • SJE

      The fact that it is tethered also sends a signal to the opposing side that they are being watched. This is as much about PSYOPs as anything.

  • Guthy

    I can see this as being usefull right up to the point where the helium runs out. At the moment the US does not treat what is effecitivly the worlds only bulk helium supply as a strategic asset rather than something to get rid of on the cheap in party balloons. Untill they sort that out this and lockheeds HALE-D / P-791 have a very short lifespan ahead of them.

    • Aerostat Guy

      There are talks of going to a helium hydrogen mixture to lower the amount of helium used by these systems.

    • Spider

      OK, we are wasting our He2, I get that, but with H2 having nearly a 4 to 1 lift advantage, and cheaper, to boot, why not use it when lives aren’t being lifted?

      • Spider

        He, Opps, doesn’t have to be diatomic, now then, does it?

      • blight_

        Transporting hydrogen for aerostats sounds dangerous. Safe and secure storage of hydrogen in large quantities introduces complexity, especially if these are being used at smaller and smaller bases at the periphery of the country.

  • don

    what a target, nope


    Too bad we can’t ask this question to the crew of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald which sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975. The vessel was over 700 feet long.

    • blight_

      Great Salt Lake in Utah is nothing like the Great Lakes…plenty of lakers under the waves up there. Not so many in off of SLC.

      • Brian

        It’s because its a dead sea. It’s really salty. It stinks, and nothing but brine shrimp grows there.

        • blight_

          That was my point. Great Salt Lake is not one of the Great Lakes.

  • blight_

    I wonder if we could put a stabilized 20mm up there…

    • AerostatGuy

      I would possibly burn the fabric of the aerostat but it has been a possibility but when it is at a operating altitude of 10,000 MSL it would only do so much good

    • bdds04

      Yes , it can with stand it do you think the military would pay that type of money for a system that can’t do the job? If you think so you have a lot to learn about that army.


    The title calls this a weapon. I’d call it a sensor…

  • Pappa51

    These Ballons will last about 5 minutes. Then what?

    • Aerostat Guy

      What do you mean 5 min these “Aerostats” not balloons can stay up for weeks at a time well out of range of most fighting

  • Guest

    The part of the fighting where it gets shot down by the advanced air defense system is probably the worry.

  • ffjbentson

    RAID — Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform. There are more than 100 RAID systems are deployed in Afghanistan.
    Electro-optic infrared, radar, flash and acoustic detectors elevated by tethered aerostats and on 100-ft. telescoping tower systems enable warfighters in forward operating bases to “see” and know what threats and other activities are taking place far beyond the perimeter. This persistent surveillance provides warfighters with significantly increased safety and security.
    You can see them on google earth just visit the
    Google Earth Community › Earth › Military ›

  • SFC C+11

    I had a chance to work with one aerostat down in Honduras back in 1986, and it worked well for us. We had three modes on the system – an air mode, to look for aircraft, a moving target indicator mode, to look at vehicle movement, and two sea modes, one for calm seas and one for rougher seas. Our ground station had to switch off whenever we went to the sea modes as they could not read it at that time. I’m glad to see they have worked that bug out. These aerostats have seperate chambers for the helium so it is not one huge “balloon” but numerous smaller balloons encased within. It takes a LOT to bring one down, ask the U.S. NAVY about what it takes. They had to take one out that broke away from its tether off the coast of Florida.
    I tried to get a jiob working with these after I retired from the Army and everyone said they did not have the system, even the DEA that uses them for drug smuggling.

  • Jeffrey

    I wonder if the Iranian air force can shoot these down? If so, then it is a huge waste of money. I would think attack helicopters providing cover for a carrier would do a better job than the hindenburg.

    • STemplar

      Sure, if they’re willing to fly over UAE airspace to do it. At 10,000 feet line of sight is 123 NMs to the horizon. The Straits of Hormuz are only about 50 to 80 statutory miles across.

  • elmondohummus

    While I’ll make fun of a military project any day of the week – and regarding this one: Doesn’t it look like it needs to wear a pair of briefs or something? I’ve never seen a more obviously male blimp in my life! ;) – but at the same time, I don’t know why there are some cynical comments up above.

    An airborne surveillance system – like an E-3 or E-8, for example – are way the hell faster and more maneuverable than any blimp, BUT they would lack the extreme endurance that a blimp could provide. You can put one up there for weeks, and while it’s possible to rotate through 2, 3, or 4 jet-based surveillance assets for the same period of time, how much fuel are you using to keep them up? A blimp can be put up, stay up for ungodly periods of time *AND* if it’s an airborne radar system, it can warn ground controllers to launch aircraft in case some were coming to shoot it down. (Cont’d…)

    • elmondohummus

      … cont’d:

      On top of that, is it cheaper than a AEW&C, both in acquisition and operational costs? If so, that can’t be ignored, even if it’s a more vulnerable platform. Furthermore, there’s more than dollar costs involved; even if these things were expensive, there would be no human loss in a shootdown. There would if an E-3 or E-8 were downed. (Cont’d…)

    • Guest

      “Why, yes, in fact they do clang when I fly”

  • elmondohummus

    … cont’d:

    Now, I don’t see an answer to a missile attack on one yet, so I’m not saying that the platform has zero flaws. That would be foolish. Rather, I’m saying it doesn’t have to be deployed in a way that makes it vulnerable to everything.

    As long as it’s effective as a surveillance platform and not expensive, I think aircraft such as these are a great idea. Now, obviously I’m only taking about the lighter-than-air aspect, not the “swarm defense” capability. I’m too ignorant about what that involves to comment on that. But I’ve always wondered why such platforms weren’t, for example, acting as long-range surveilance for airbases, carriers, and missile defenses. You could combine these with E-2s, for example for carrier strike groups: Have the blimp based platform do the routine coverage and save the E-2s – and the fuel, plus the personnel – for more intense operations, for areas where additional coverage is needed, etc.

    • tmb2

      The comments from others here about how vulnerable it is to being shot down seem to be missing the larger point. If this thing is tethered to an Arleigh-Burke, then it’s already partnered up with one of the world’s best air defense platforms to begin with. If you were an enemy aircraft flying in, are you really concerned with trying to shoot down a blimp or rather the destroyer already locked onto you because they saw you 100 miles out?

  • Mike

    This will compliment the prism program nicely